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Women on the Move: Food for Thought

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I never thought it would happen to me but then again no one thinks they will experience the unimaginable or at least we hope we won’t. Becoming one of the estimated *6,670,300 Americans to report a visual disability was incomprehensible but it is my reality.

*37,627,800 or 12.1% is the estimated number of Americans with a disability. The Department of Labor’s September 2014 workforce participation report noted an estimated **20.1% of people with disabilities were employed versus 68.5% of people without disabilities.

At **12.3% versus 5.5%, the number of unemployed people with disabilities is more than double the rate of unemployment among people without disabilities. As you can see by the numbers there is still some work to be done to bridge the employment gap of inequality of people with disabilities.

The 2014 NDEAM theme, EXPECT.EMPLOY.EMPOWER. appears in large white letters at the center of the poster on a blue backdrop of a collage of images of people with disabilities in a variety of work settings. On the right side is a large image from the back of a female wheelchair user. On the back of her chair are the words What can YOU do? The words at the bottom on a silver banner include National Disability Employment Awareness Month, DOL’s logo with the words Office of Disability Employment Policy United States Department of Labor and ODEP’s website: www.dol.gov/odep.
Office of Disability Employment Policy
United States Department of Labor and
ODEP’s website: www.dol.gov/odep.

Since it is National Disability Employment Awareness Month I wanted to use this Friday to highlight some major contributions of women and men with all types of disabilities. Granted the disability movement has come a long way from 1760 when Thomas Braidwood opened the first school for the deaf in England to 1964 when the Civil Rights Act excluded people with disabilities.

Fred Fay, Ed Roberts, Judi Chamberlin, Judith E. Heumann and countless other advocates, all of whom are in the remarkable documentary, Lives Worth Living, clearly shows that when people feel a passion for change, they can make it happen regardless of their circumstances. Seeing people with a range of disabilities crawling up the stairs at the Capitol to demonstrate the physical barriers they have to overcome is awe-inspiring.

To live with and overcome physical obstacles and invisible barriers in order to carry on with life is remarkable and takes a certain amount of fortitude that many people would not understand. This is one of the reasons why I am so grateful to the many friends and acquaintances placed in my life with whom I can look to as mentors to help me navigate the world with my disability.

The ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act), required governments and programs on the local, state and federal levels to be accessible, that reasonable accommodations and modifications be provided in the workplace, restaurants, stores, public transit, communication, etc. Though the Act signed into law by George W. Bush on July 26, 1990 was considered the most comprehensive disability law in history, there is still a great deal of work to be done.

Believe it or not people with disabilities also have hopes, dreams and goals for a brighter future. Jumping to conclusions and placing perceived limitations on those with disabilities is not only unfair it’s disrespectful.

Gainful employment for those workers with disabilities who possess the qualities required of the job should be given a fair chance. I remember seeing a report a couple of years back that said something to the effect that many employers won’t hire people with disabilities because they think accommodations will be costly or the individual will be a risk for whatever reason. Here’s the thing though, like other sub-groups many people with disabilities feel they have to outperform to prove their worth.

I think meaningful conversation can lead to understanding, which will dispel misconceptions and thus provide those of us with a disability a fair shot at gainful employment.

Kudos to those advocates working towards the betterment of life for people with disabilities. It’s because of your passion and commitment to make the world a more inclusive environment for all that change has and will continue to happen.

“People are pretty much alike. It’s only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities.” ~Linda Ellerbee

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